Advice to Preachers and Teachers (9)
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” Deuteronomy 10.12, 13
“Then it is necessary to become meek through piety so that we do not contradict the Divine Scripture, either when it is understood and seen to attach some of our vices, or when it is not understood and we feel as though we are wiser than it is and as better able to give precepts. But we should rather think and believe that which is written to be better and more true than anything which we could think of by ourselves, even when it is obscure.”
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
Fear leads to obedience
It’s interesting to note that loving God is only third in the chain of verbs Moses used to describe how believers should relate to their Lord.
If we fear God as we should, the logical next step is to humble ourselves and obey Him. Obeying God means – as Augustine indicates – putting His Word and priorities over ours; allowing His Word to expose our shortcomings, so that we agree with Him and confess our sins (Greek: ὁμολογέω, to say the same thing); then, taking His Word as true and reliable – and for our good – we “walk in all His ways”.
Augustine says we may not understand why God requires certain things. Some aspects of His Word may be hard or obscure. We may even be tempted to think we know better than God about a matter – we’d never say that, of course, but the effect of doing our thing rather than His is the same – but humility requires that we obey Him, putting aside our ego and doing what God commands.
This is how we find the good life God intends for us. And it’s what we must teach those entrusted to our care, that they may let the Word of God dwell in them richly, so that they profit from all its teaching and counsel and promises (Col. 3.16; 2 Tim. 3.15-17).
When, in response to God’s Word, we hear ourselves saying anything other than “All that the Lord has spoken, I will do” (Ex. 24.3), we can know that we have more respect for our own ideas than for God, and we fear missing out on what we want more than we fear the Lord.
Fear of God should lead to meekness and humility before His Word, so that we hear Him speaking, acknowledge our vices and shortcomings, and resolve to obey Him and walk in all His ways.
The problem of self-esteem
Paul counseled us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Rom. 12.3). We should think of ourselves as God teaches us to think, so that we exercise faith in Him and use the gifts He gives us to channel His grace to others and promote faith, ministry, generosity, mercy, and joy (vv. 4-8).
But if we bridle the Word of God to our own best ideas, we’re thinking more highly of ourselves than of God. We may have what we consider to be good reasons for why we prefer our ideas and ways over those revealed in God’s Word. But this is just another expression of self-esteem – one of the idols of our secular and narcissistic age – way out of whack.
Stan Gale explains, “We have a tendency to think too highly of ourselves, to strain against our creaturely limitations. The declaration of the psalmist becomes to us an admonition: ‘Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth’ (Psalm 115.1). It is through humbling ourselves that we adopt the attitude of our Lord Jesus, submitting to God’s will, waiting upon Him as a servant to his master and a weaned child to his mother.”
This is the true spirit of Augustine’s counsel, as well as of all the teaching of God’s Word. If we fear God as we should, we will obey Him, no matter what He requires. We will set our own best ideas aside and take up His, walking, to the best of our abilities, in all His holy and righteous and good ways.
Before we simply nod in agreement with the Bishop of Hippo, we should reflect a bit on our own walk with the Lord, and on the ministry and calling He has appointed to us.
Let’s begin with prayer: Does our practice of prayer agree with the teaching of God’s Word? Do we pray without ceasing? Pray at all times about all things, and not grow weary? Give thanks in everything? Praise God according to His holy worth? Seek Him for revival, renewal, and awakening? Do we trust our own best thoughts and words in prayer, even though the apostle Paul reminds us that we don’t know how to pray as we ought? And do we, because of this, follow the example of saints in Scripture, and look to the psalms to guide our prayers?
We should also reflect on our use of the Word of God: Do we meditate on it day and night? Do we find reading and meditating on Scripture to be the joy and rejoicing of our heart? Are we hiding the Word in our heart, and letting it dwell in us richly? Is the Spirit using the Word to bring us into the presence of God’s glory, there to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ? Do we value, and do we instruct and urge upon those we teach likewise to value, every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God more than their necessary food?
And what of our calling from the Lord: Do we look upon our ministry as God’s call to His Kingdom and glory? Do we teach those entrusted to us that they have a similar call, and that seeking the Kingdom and living for the glory of God must be the guiding precepts of whatever they do? Do we pursue our calling as the way to obtain the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Or is it just a way to make a living? Are we committed to learning Jesus, more and more, day by day, and having the life of Christ show through us in all our relationships roles and responsibilities?
Many more questions should come before us, especially those of us who have been set as pastors and teachers in the flock of the Lord. Are we worshiping according to the pattern of sound words God has shown us in His Word? Are we shepherding God’s flock, being careful to know the condition of all our flock? Or are we just running optional programs? Is our church fulfilling its mission as an epicenter of joy, beauty, grace, mercy, and witness in our community? Is our church healthy and growing to become the Body of Christ in our community?
Only if, fearing the Lord, we humble ourselves to take Him at His Word, and do all that He calls and commands us to do, will we be truly obeying Him. And only then will we – and the people we serve – know increasingly the full and abundant and good life God has in store for those who love Him.
In the Gospel the Lord decreed that those who possessed humility were first among the blessed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Paul laid this command on everyone, rich and poor, servant and master.
- Theodoret of Cyr (393-466), Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans
1. We don’t typically revolt against God’s Word; usually we drift from it (Heb. 2.1). How does that happen?
2. What are some things we can do to help make sure we are always obeying God and not just following our best thoughts or ideas?
3. How can self-esteem – as important as proper self-esteem is – be a stumbling block to obedience?
T. M. Moore
Pastoral Hope Initiative
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).